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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Please Pass the Salt

Morton's Salt advertisement, ca. 1930s

You can almost taste the salt when you open the boxes for the International Salt Company Records, 1888-1964 (bulk 1920s-1930s), housed at the Archives Center, National Museum of
American History.  I recently sampled this collection for the Lemelson Center’s Food for
Tomorrow Symposium in November 2010. I was looking for images of salt for a salt tasting
activity and I was rewarded with colorful and informative advertisements touting the cooking
and medical benefits of salt. The latter gave me pause. Benefits of salt? Aren’t we supposed to consume less salt?

Union Pacific Salt Co. Anchor Brand
Liverpool Dairy Salt trademark, 1894.
In today’s news we are barraged with the dangers too much salt presents to our health when
consumed in large amounts. Indeed, this essential ingredient is under attack by the government, health officials, and others who discuss setting maximum levels of sodium in food. I doubt the salt industry could have predicted the shift in attitude, but the records we have reveal a different attitude, one that reflects the time period and its marketing strategies.

The collection consists primarily of scrapbooks of advertisements for the International Salt 
Company’s Sterling Salt label and other leading salt companies, especially Morton’s. One
scrapbook, devoted solely to Sterling Salt, promoted uses for the home (table salt, curing 
meats, and brines), industry (rock salt for winter weather) and agriculture (killing weeds). 

William M. Rittase, photographer.
Women packing cases of 24-ounce salt packages:
silver gelatin photoprint, ca. 1930s. 
 Many of the ads were part of the “Pass the Salt” campaign and were featured in publications such as Hide, Leather and Shoes, Department Store Economist, American Agriculturist, National Safety News, and Mill and Factory, to name a few. Other scrapbooks contain advertisements, newspaper clippings, and ephemera for salt products produced by companies such as Colonial Special Farmers Salt, Morton’s, Mulkey’s Salt, Rock Glen Salt Company, Jefferson Island Old Rip Salt, Myles Salt, and Kerr’s Cooking Salt. Much of the ephemera consists of labels, but there are also small pamphlet cookbooks. The cookbooks, prepared and marketed by various salt companies, tout recipes for tasty dishes using specific salts and expound upon the merits of salt in general, especially medically. Other clever salt-related advertising appears in conjunction with maps, buttons, song books, calendars, and health exercises.
 The records also contain a traveling salt kit for Sterling Salt salesmen; select annual reports and employee newsletters for International Salt; trademarks for a variety of salt companies (1890s-1920s); payroll ledgers; black-and-white photographs depicting mines and employees; and slides. Of note are photographs by American photographer William Rittase (1887-1968), active in the 1920s-1930s and known for his industrial photography. Rittase’s images provide insight into salt manufacturing and packaging operations.

So, next time you ask someone to “please pass the salt,” you can do so knowing that salt, an essential ingredient in food, has benefits when used in moderation.

Alison Oswald, Archivist

1 comment:

  1. This brings back fun memories of the “Morton Salt Girl” commercials and the slogan, “when it rains it pours.” Thanks!